Sideways (2004)

(In theaters, February 2005) The premise doesn’t promise much: A depressive wine connoisseur with delusions of literary competency goes on a wine-tasting road trip with a womanizing friend on the eve of his wedding. Wackiness ensue. But to dismiss the plot of the film is to ignore the way Sideways progressively becomes more and more sympathetic, despite its flawed characters and maybe even thanks to them. Not only is Paul Giamatti pitch-perfect as the miserable protagonist, but the rest of the cast also does fantastic work. Best of all is the screenplay, which not only teaches more about wine than you’d ever expected to know, but also finds just the right spots between comedy and tragedy. (It just may be writer/director Alexander Payne’s best effort yet). The Californian wine-country cinematography is gorgeous and the direction is unobtrusive. I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did, but then again it features an exchange I can identify with: “So you’ve written a novel?” “You you like to read it? I’ve got a copy of it in the trunk of my car.” Ah, so true.

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